Here's one way that Gravity, AOL's latest technology acquisition, could help the entire Web video industry: fix discovery.
The difficulty in finding Web video content, particularly in a world where YouTube gets 100 hours of content uploaded every minute, is a common refrain in the video space. That challenge is coupled with the fact that most Web publishers can only promote so many shows (if they promote them at all).
AOL has made originals a priority—which has led to some solid successes, but no breakout hits. Gravity—which promises to surface more relevant content and ads to Web consumers based on their interests, not just what they recently clicked on—could help.
"It allows us to surgically promote Web shows, instead of, 'we’re going to promote all 10 of these in front of everybody all the time," said Luke Beatty, AOL's brand group head of product.
As Beatty explained, sites like AOL have to do a lot of blunt mass market programming, meaning that some content gets the shaft while other content gets promoted to the wrong people. "Everybody gets the same page at AOL.com, right?" he said. "That is insane. We gotta get away from that. Gravity is more about passive discovery."
For example, recent MapQuest users searching for directions to Nashville might see content about Nashville restaurants the next time they visit AOL.com. The same for Denver locals who may have recently logged onto HuffPost Denver.
But perhaps the bigger impact might be felt in surfacing original shows, like City Ballet. Instead of promoting that show to everybody, including every dance-reviling guy logging onto AOL to check out his fantasy stats, AOL could theoretically push the Sarah Jessica Parker produced shows to ballet fans—not just people who "state" they are ballet fans by visiting ballet sites.
Could Gravity help AOL's competitors make video discovery better? Yes, said Beatty.
"We're sensitive about people data, and we're going to be vigilant about that," he said. "But the personalization gets better as the network gets [bigger] and better. We want to work with lots of publishers."
And advertisers. Gravity should deliver users more relevant ad experiences, particularly native ads—since those ads are generally designed to behave like content. Plus, according to Beatty, AOL may eventually sell Gravity data to advertisers for intelligence or even targeting purposes.
In the meantime, existing AOL advertisers may find Gravity helps them up their game. "If you think about it, AOL works with every major advertiser," said Gravity CEO Amit Kapur. "We think they’ll craft better ads as they understand what their audiences care about. And then we'll make sure the right people see those ads."